Seventeen things that absolutely ARE worth your time

Welcome, friends, to winter.

Let me just say here, I don’t care if you think it’s not winter until December 21st, until the first snows, or the Christmas tree goes up. For me, winter starts when the sun slides below the trees at the primary school before 3pm and you hurry home before the night slams down on the village. It doesn’t seem to gradually darken here at this time of year, it’s like a lamp being extinguished. It still shocks me with its suddenness.

I’ve been quiet of late. My dislike of, and worry about, these colder months is well documented and I don’t fear about speaking openly about them, particularly if my experiences might be a help to someone else. I have, however, found myself at something of a loss at what to say that might be useful and not sound trite. To be honest, I’ve been coping. Getting my head down, doing my tasks – volunteering at the school on a Tuesday, leading our Beaver Scout colony on a Wednesday (and all the planning that takes), working three mornings a week. Anything else is a bonus – a bonus I am so glad of that I am enjoying myself to much to want to stop doing it to write about it. I have been doing things that have made me feel so contented I sometimes just want to purr.

The only thing casting a shadow on the past few weeks is the concern that I ought be writing about it – and other things, besides.

As part of my Coping With Winter plan, I have been collecting oddments of beauty, inspiration and words of wisdom and storing them on Pinterest. I could literally lose months to Pinterest, so I have to ration myself. After a while you realise that most of the lifestyle/mindfulness how-to guides are all very much of a muchness, thousands of Instagram-ready, perfect home dwelling lifestyle bloggers all preaching from the same hymn sheet. I find this both infuriating and comforting – they don’t have anything new to say, either!

I stumbled across this post – 17 things that aren’t worth your time and yes, whilst I agreed with it, I thought that now is maybe not the time to look at things so negatively, and instead look at 17 things that absolutely ARE worth your time.

Walks: I’ve not felt great, physically, for a while now. I feel as though I have something working away at me, slowly, sapping my strength. I think it’s winter to blame, but massive stomps are a thing of the past. I still get out for a wee walk every day though. I take my time, listen to the radio on my headphone (Radio 4, bit addicted!), and even if it’s just a stroll to the school gates, I feel so much better for the fresh air. Even when it’s pouring.

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Books: Three amazing novels I’ve read recently – Sarah Perry’s The Essex Serpent, Melissa Harrison’s All Among The Barley and Polly Clark’s Larchfield. I’m currently reading Malachy Tallack’s The Valley At The Centre of the World. I haven’t felt so warm, contented and happy curled up with a book since Friday evenings as a child, just back from our tiny local lending library, eagerly clutching a new selection of Enid Blyton or Arthur Ransome to devour.

Coffee: Make time for good coffee. We only have a wee cafetiere, nothing fancy at all, but I like to have a coffee I feel I deserve after completing something. After a morning of work, household chores or a long walk, it’s become something of a ritual to steer away from the jar of instant and indulge myself in something a little more special. Favourite mug, check. That wonderful smell of the coffee when you open the packet, check. Water just before boiling, check. Waiting just long enough before pushing down that plunger-thing, check. Sitting on the back step, eyes closed, hands wrapped around a mug that smells divine and tastes even better is one of life’s tiny pleasures that shouldn’t be denied.

Crap TV: Whatever it is, if it takes you away from worry and buggering about on social media for a wee while, indulge yourself. I watch very little TV, I prefer the radio, but in the run up to Christmas I do love a truly dreadful Christmas movie to escape into. It’s a treat. It doesn’t hurt anyone else. Don’t feel guilty.

Early nights: Early to bed is the new staying out late. Really it is.

Spotify playlists: I live for these at the moment. I get freaked out by how spot-on their algorithms are for being able to tell what I’d like, but maybe I am just depressingly predictable. Spotify always give me new things to listen to and fall in love with though, so I never get bored.

Cake: Making, particularly. Also eating. Cakes are calorie-free when the weather is cold.

Hot chocolate: With an extra sugar, lashings of squirty cream and a scrunched up Flake on top. Because to hell with Type II diabetes.

Friends, real-life ones: Reach out beyond social media. Plan a week-night get together for dinner and a chat, if you can. Pub quiz? Bingo? Walk? Whatever floats your boats. We are too reliant on social media these days, but nothing beats a good chinwag catch-up.

Hobbies: Whatever they are. Crochet, cake decorating, cheese-rolling, bog-snorkelling. Does it make you happy? Yes? Then do it more. Even if you’re not very good at it. Four years ago I was utterly hopeless at crochet, I couldn’t even chain, but I decided I was going to teach myself and I wasn’t going to stop until I had learned. Why crochet? Because everyone else in my family are good knitters, but can’t crochet. I’m a trend-bucker like that. Also, my knitting is bloody atrocious.

Sending kind words to someone you think a lot of: For no reason other than that your life is better for having them in it. Send them a text, a Twitter DM, a card. Just say it.

Politeness: It costs nothing. Smiling and remembering your pleases and thank yous sounds like something you’d remind a five year old; but you’d be amazed how many people don’t think it’s important anymore.

Turning off the news: I like being informed. I have children who often ask me difficult questions and, as a parent, I owe them an answer – or at least a discussion on a subject. But there is nothing to be gained from watching 24 hour news or dwelling over headlines. We can do what we can do – we can educate and inform and share advice and resources. Worrying and getting paranoid and upset about what the news decides suits their agenda helps nobody, and only distracts from what we can do.

Buying local and buying from craftspeople: Going out for something to eat? Go to a local restaurant/cafe run by people in your community rather than the big chains. Buy your veg at the greengrocer, your trinkets, cards, jewellery from crafters not production lines in China. Help support a local business or a talented craftsperson. Yes, you will pay £40 or so for one of my crocheted baby blankets, for example, but they will be a quality you can pass down as an heirloom and every stitch will have been made – by hand, not machine, with care and love, because I love my craft.

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Volunteering: I’m going to write a more detailed post about this soon, so I shall just say that volunteering has brought me so much joy and personal satisfaction, as well as great talking points for my CV, that I would recommend it to anyone and everyone. Whatever you like doing, would like to learn, or cause you support, you will be able to volunteer to help. Do it!

Cooking from scratch: I find cooking is brilliant for anxiety. The slow, careful preparation and weighing of ingredients, the combining, the cooking, the watching, the clearing up (I am an ‘as you go’ person rather than an ‘at the end’ person), there is something mindful and meditative about it, and whenever I’m feeling at odds with the world, I take great pleasure in the whole process, from planning and buying to the finished dish. I know I’m really lucky to have the time to do it, I’m not rushing in from work and juggling taking kids to various after-school activities, but if you can find an hour in your week to potter about in the kitchen, you won’t regret it.

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Plans: When the nights are long, nothing feels nicer than making plans for the future. Whether that be plans to budget for your summer holiday, plan what you want to do to your house, plan your new career or – my personal favourite – plan what I’m going to grow for food next year, now is the time to get everything down and see how you can convert them into more than just dreams.

I hope you’ve been able to take something from this wee listicle; it’s certainly helped me to get something written after weeks of beating myself up for not being able to do so, and I thank you for reading it. I have my fingers crossed that it won’t be so long next time!

 

 

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SmallGoodThings

Monday morning silence.

I have just got home having walked the children to school in horizontal rain; I have made myself a very strong black coffee and retreated to bed, with my trusty laptop on my knees. I usually sit at my desk (yes, the £10.00 drop-leaf, no expense spared for my working comfort) but it’s covered in wool and various bits of crafting gubbinses like my silk-painting frame and paints. It also puts me into ‘work-mode’ when the view outside is less than inspiring as I’ll spend longer procrastinating and checking the work database and emails for tomorrow if there aren’t any birds and squirrels entertaining me.

It’s so quiet. No traffic or construction noise from the fancy new-builds across the way. No beep-blink-beep-boom of electronic games; no gentle drone of Radio 4 for company. It is quite….delicious.

When you are coping with an anxiety disorder, I think there can be a tendency to seek comfort in background noise – perhaps the moving wallpaper of the TV on in the corner whether it is being watched or not or, as in my case, the radio. Is it company? Is it some kind of reassurance that people are close by in a time where we are less likely to reach out to neighbours or friends with their busy lives?

I listen, as I mentioned, to Radio 4. I love Radio 4. For me, it has the perfect balance of news, current affairs, special interest programmes, comedy and drama. For all the BBC’s problems, for all its issues with media bias (and, let’s face it, what media outlet isn’t going to be biased in some way?); Radio 4 seems to remain a flagship of quality programming.

(It also has The Shipping Forecast, which I have always found mysterious and bewitching; hoping one day to experience a cyclonic off Fastnet.)

This morning, however, is quiet morning.

I can hear the wind whip through the bare branches of the beloved sessile oak that makes up most of my view. I can hear the soft click-chipchip-click of my useless one finger typing. I can hear a bird, a wren, it sounds like, singing ; its surprisingly big voice soon lost on the wind.

I’ve left my phone downstairs too. I’m taking a break from chatter and the buzz of social media, at least for a few hours, alongside the radio. Resting my brain from the constant barrage of information, misinformation, paranoia, fear and – thankfully with the lovely folk I follow on Twitter and my friends on Facebook – a decent sized portion of good, decent British gallows humour in the face of testing times; and no small degree of beauty.

My blog this morning was going to be a furious and self-righteous libtard, snowflake rant about the alt-right and the communal hypnosis that seems to be affecting the Western World at the moment; culminating in a mildly amusing tirade about last night’s events that led to Twitter – that bastion of free speech – putting me on the Naughty Step for twelve hours for pointing out to stupid people that they were stupid. (OK, I might have used a bad word or two); but even just thinking about it is making my shoulders stiffen and my jaw clench, and defeats the object of not listening to the radio.

Instead, I am going to talk about #SmallGoodThings.

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It fell into my Twitter timeline thanks to the lovely Emma of Silverpebble and is, in short, a collection of those lovely little things that make our hearts sing, rather than despair. It might be an inspiring view, something beautiful you’ve read, a delicious slice of cake or an amazing run. Emma herself is something of an inspiration to me, and I often find myself stalking her looking for her exquisite drawings of local flora, or her gorgeous Instagram pictures that just make me want to grab my wellies and go mooching around for what I too might find. I think I found out about Emma through Lucy of Attic 24 who in turn will probably never know the effect she had on me during my early struggle with learning to crochet with seven hundred fingers and ninety thumbs and also the sales of Robin DK yarn in the local branch of Watt Bros! Thank you to both of them for bringing such beautiful things into my life.

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On Friday night, we took 13 Beaver Scouts and 11 Cubs along to a Strathcalder District sleepover at the Glasgow Science Centre. I won’t try and kid on that I wasn’t at all worried about this – this was my first major outing leading a group without most of the parents being within easy grabbing distance, and I’m not the most confident of souls; but I’m delighted to report that it was absolutely amazing. We didn’t lose any in the throng of 400-odd other children all dressed the same; nobody required the First Aid kit; and any homesick tears were soon gone with bribes of arms full of (well deserved) badges and certificates. It was the first-night-away-from-family for a lot of them (sometimes I forget how young they are), and they were fantastic. Their behaviour and attitude was remarkable and I was so, so proud of each and every one of them and won’t hesitate to organise more trips with them.

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I was full of the cold yesterday and spent the morning lounging about cat-like in the sun’s rays on my bed; annoying people on Twitter, drinking copious amounts of tea and catching up with the gossip from Ambridge; but by the afternoon I was becoming stir-crazy and suggested a wee daunder down the farm lane to the Old Mine Nature Park. Boy 2 could have used the perfectly adequate wheelchair, bike and pram friendly gate at the side, but hey, where’s the fun in that?

Despite the snowdrop and crocus displays in the village and in the woods being tremendous this year; the lane is still cloaked in winter. There is the first sign of budding on the prolific hawthorn bushes, but not much else and I was just starting to feel rather melancholy and despondent when Boy 2 pointed out birdsong. The skylark! We often hear it along this walk as there are farm fields surrounding the lane on all sides; and we weren’t able to see it yesterday, but that unmistakable song never fails to raise the spirits. We continued along our way chatting about nature, and school. He described what adjectives were:

“Adjectives are describing words; like red, or blonde, or disgraceful.”

We came home to warmth, and tea, and the not-husband making dinner and I settled down to listen to Poetry Please, my Sunday afternoon guilty pleasure, where I heard this absolutely beautiful poem by Carol Ann Duffy:

The Light Gatherer

When you were small, your cupped palms
each held a candleworth under the skin, enough light to begin,
and as you grew,
light gathered in you, two clear raindrops
in your eyes,
warm pearls, shy,
in the lobes of your ears, even always
the light of a smile after your tears.
Your kissed feet glowed in my one hand,
or I’d enter a room to see the corner you played in
lit like a stage set,
the crown of your bowed head spotlit.
When language came, it glittered like a river,
silver, clever with fish,
and you slept
with the whole moon held in your arms for a night light
where I knelt watching.
Light gatherer. You fell from a star
into my lap, the soft lamp at the bedside
mirrored in you,
and now you shine like a snowgirl,
a buttercup under a chin, the wide blue yonder
you squeal at and fly in,
like a jewelled cave,
turquoise and diamond and gold, opening out
at the end of a tunnel of years.

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After bathtime, we managed to drag them away from their various bleep-bleep machines, to which they were appearing to be glued, for a game of Family Trivial Pursuit. It doesn’t happen as much as it should do. All too often we sit together in the living room with Boy 1 on a headset in front of the XBox, Boy 2 on headphones watching YouTube on his tablet, the not-husband on headphones watching a film on the laptop; and me crocheting and listening to the radio or something on Spotify; so although we are together, I am very conscious of the fact that we are all sat there in our own little bubbles; so it was really lovely to break out of that.

It’s now 10.36am. I have been typing for an hour and a half. It is still silent, but for the wind and the occasional bird. Have I missed Twitter or Facebook? No. Not at all. Have I missed the radio? Do I feel as though I have missed something vital to my understanding of the world in which we live? Do I fear I will fail my children by not keeping up with the minutiae of daily political intrigue? No.

I was chatting to someone about anxiety this weekend; we were talking about trying to find brightness on dark days; trying to find these self-same #SmallGoodThings; and how we need to treat them like kindling flames; to nurture them so they become bigger flames, light that illuminates the dark corners and keeps us warm.

Silence, today, has been my #SmallGoodThing

Thank you for reading xx

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Snowdrops at Bothwell Woods through Prisma filter.